Singer Cerys Matthews and music expert Tristram Penna go back to summer 1898 when The Gramophone Company opened offices in London’s Covent Garden.

This was the very first disc record company in the UK, later becoming well known as HMV and EMI, and was the London affiliate of inventor Emile Berliner's US National Gramophone Company.

The first inventory consisted of imported parts for 3,000 gramophones and 150,000 American records. It was swiftly obvious that British tastes meant local repertoire was vital, so Berliner sent his top engineer and talent man Fred Gaisberg to London. On 9 Aug - the day of the very first gramophone recording session - Fred recorded Adam Umbach, clarinettist from the Trocadero, playing Mendelssohn's Spring Song.

Close by, Rules Restaurant, London's oldest restaurant which opened in 1798, also played an important part as a place where artists and Gramophone Company staff could fraternise. Here Gaisberg heard Australian singer Syria Lamonte, leading to a legendary recording of Coming Through The Rye on the 2 September.

Fred wanted to record everything and anything that he thought might sell and the very first gramophone record catalogue contains several thousand very diverse recordings.

The early recording process may have been primitive, but many artists were persuaded to record by a pioneering spirit. By Christmas 1898 the company had sold out of all machines and records so the entire staff poured into Rules to celebrate.

We hear from Christopher Proudfoot, CLPGS chairman, academic Peter Adamson, and music manager/author Simon Napier-Bell. The early recordings are courtesy of the EMI Archive Trust.

A Sue Clark Production for BBC Radio 4.

Leave a Reply